It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr

John Dickson Carr
It Walks By Night

I've been quite excited to read this book, with it being the first novel of an author regarded as a master of the locked room mystery! And he's an American who has made it into the British Library Crime Classics series, so his writing must be special. And of course, reading any book from this British Library Crime Classics series is such a treat! And oooh, the book starts with a map of the scene, I do love a map!

It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr available on Amazon
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I’ve been quite excited to read this book, with it being the first novel of an author regarded as a master of the locked room mystery! And he’s an American who has made it into the British Library Crime Classics series, so his writing must be special. And of course, reading any book from this British Library Crime Classics series is such a treat! And oooh, the book starts with a map of the scene, I do love a map!

The story is set in Paris in April 1927, and the book begins with a passage from another book, written in the 15th century, about a ‘night monster…a misshapen beast with blood-bedabbled claws’ but who can look by day like ‘a fair and smiling woman’ or a ‘man of favoured looks’, and the passage warns readers to ‘not open your door to this supposed traveller’ when you hear ‘a gentle tapping of fingers at the window-pane’. The reader of this historic book is the narrator of this book, an American who is not named, and he has been sent this book by his friend, Inspector Bencolin, as they are working together to find the escaped murderer, Alexandre Laurent, and Bencolin says that this historic book was owned by Laurent and it shows what kind of a person he is. Eeeek, the passage from the book is very sinister. And interesting that the narrator is not named, I wonder why not. 

Bencolin is described as being someone who ‘you felt that you could tell him anything…and he would be neither surprised nor inclined to laugh at you… he rarely gestured…and he never raised his voice…the inscrutable smile…whatever happened, his expression was always that of one meditating over a glass of wine…with his fingers on all Paris’. Hmmm, he sounds like an intriguing and memorable man. 

Bencolin tells the narrator that Laurent was jailed in an asylum for the criminally insane four years ago after trying to murder his wife, Louise, but when Louise’s engagement to Duc Raoul de Saligny was announced, Laurent escaped the asylum and visited a plastic surgeon in Vienna. This plastic surgeon was then found murdered with his head placed in one of his own jars of alcohol on a shelf in his clinic but his body was never found. Bencolin says that Laurent is now in Paris and has sent a letter to Saligny two days ago warning him not to marry Louise and stating that he has put himself close to Saligny, though Saligny will not know who he is. Bencolin says that Saligny called him in to protect him and to try and find Laurent, and he adds that Saligny and Louise were married that day. Oooh, it all sounds suitably sinister! And how delicious would it be if Bencolin was Laurent, very Agatha Christie-like, but obviously not, as it sounds like he’s a recurring character in Carr’s books, and it is made clear that the narrator has known him all his life.

Bencolin and the narrator go to Fenelli’s, a gambling hall, where Saligny will be that night with Louise. Bencolin has arranged to meet an Austrian psychiatrist, Grafenstein, at the gambling hall, this was the man who analysed Laurent after he was arrested for the attempted murder of Louise. Grafenstein describes Laurent as calm and pleasant, a tall man with soft white hands who often twitches his shoulders, he wears glasses and his eyes are wide, and he can speak several languages fluently. Grafenstein also says that Laurent told him that the urge to murder his wife came from his reading of books such as Baudelaire and Poe and De Quincey, that he gets an impulse to see blood, and that he has killed many times and that he has a way of getting into houses. 

Louise comes to speak to Bencolin, at his table with the narrator and Grafenstein, she says she saw Laurent that afternoon when they were at Kilard’s house, Kilard being Saligny’s lawyer. She says she was dressing for the evening in Mrs Kilard’s bedroom while there was a thunderstorm, Saligny and his friend, Edouard Vautrelle, came to take her downstairs to dinner, she went to the bathroom and during a flash of lightning before she turned the lights on, she insists she saw Laurent by the window grinning at her and he then dropped something on the tiled floor and the room then went dark again after the lightning flash. She screamed and the others came running into the bathroom and turned on the lights but there was no-one in the bathroom and no other doorway for him to escape by, and the window was locked from the inside. A garden trowel was found on the bathroom floor, which Vautrelle put in the medicine chest. She says she let Saligny and Vautrelle think that she believed their suggestion that it was a hallucination, but she is certain it was not. Bencolin asks what Laurent looked like, as they know his appearance has now been altered, she says she only saw him in the half light but she recognised him by certain gestures and ‘the way he opened his eyes’. Hmmm, I am already wondering about this friend Vautrelle, could he be Laurent and could it be his reflection from the room behind her that she saw in the lighted window and he then quickly placed the trowel on the floor when they ran into the room after she screamed? Although then why would he select a trowel, that seems very odd, and how could he have put the trowel down without Saligny noticing? And I guess I was thinking he didn’t intend Louise to see him in the reflection as why would he risk being discovered at this point, but then she said he grinned at her which implies he intended to be seen by her, so that doesn’t really fit, hmmm, maybe I’m on the wrong track here. 

At 11.30pm they all watch Saligny go into the card-room which has two doors, one leading into the salon where Bencolin sits intently watching the door, and one leading to the hall where Bencolin’s police colleague, Francois, is. Vautrelle joins Louise when she is sat with Bencolin, he is described as tall and wearing a monocle. Louise leaves with Vautrelle after he tells her that she should go to Saligny in the card-room as he has been drinking too much. Bencolin takes her cigarette stub from the ashtray. Hmmm, so Vautrelle is tall, like Laurent, and wears a monocle, like Laurent wears glasses.

A waiter enters the card-room from the hall to take in a tray of drinks, he is shocked at something he sees and drops the tray. When Bencolin and Grafenstein and the narrator reach the card-room, they find Saligny dead, kneeling forwards into the carpet infront of a settee, with his head decapitated and placed on the red carpet in the middle of the room, ‘a breeze blew through the open window in the wall at our left, and ruffled the hair with a slow and lifelike sway’. Wow, what a way to end a chapter! And so dramatic with the bloody head in the centre of the red carpet, and so creepy an image with the hair moving in the breeze.

Carr’s descriptions of the scenes and people are very good, very picturesque, it all feels very film noir. Each description is delivered in short sentences, which feels like images of a film too, ‘roulette tables were in play under the three white-glittering chandeliers’ and ‘the marble floor held echoes of the merest whisper’ and ‘the harsh light showed worn places on faces and furniture’. And all the red, with the red carpet and the red curtain blowing in the breeze and the red blood, all very dramatic images. And when Bencolin and Grafenstein and the narrator walk swiftly to the card-room, ‘one blazing chandelier passed over our heads, two, three’, it is just like a film, you can almost see them passing under one light then into dimness then under another light, it’s very atmospherically written. It is also quite gruesome for a Golden Age detective story, with both the plastic surgeon and Saligny being beheaded and their heads displayed, ick!

Bencolin checks with Francois that the other door into the card-room, from the main hall, was watched and that no-one came out that way after Saligny went in. The open window in the card-room is 40 feet from the street below and has dust on the sill and frame and ledge, so Bencolin concludes that the murderer couldn’t have got in or out through the window. He also checks that there is no-one hiding in the room. The weapon was a sword, which has been left by the body, it came from a pair hung on the wall, which the manager, Fenelli, confirms were kept sharpened for authenticity, there were also raised brass nailheads on the handle so Bencolin thinks there is little chance of fingerprints from it. Fenelli also confirms that Saligny arrived that evening with Louise and Vautrelle and the Kilards, but the Kilards left shortly after arriving. Bencolin explains to the narrator and Grafenstein that this wasn’t an impulsive killing but was planned beforehand, with the sword having been tucked down the back of the settee, as he can see the long thin impression it left, and that the murderer struck Saligny when he was standing or kneeling with his back to the settee, he says the fact that Saligny appears to have been bent over when he was struck ‘is the point that is likely to tell us who the murderer is’. He concludes that the murderer was therefore in the room before Saligny arrived and was someone that Saligny didn’t fear, so it must be one of his friends or acquaintances, and that as the police have prevented anyone from leaving the building then the murderer is still there in the gaming hall. He says that the head didn’t roll to its position, as there is no blood trail, so it was placed there by the murderer and he comments that ‘a parallel enters the mind’. He searches Saligny’s pockets and finds pictures of Saligny, from photos and from newspapers. But he notes there are no house or car keys in his pockets, so concludes that these have been taken. They are interrupted by a drunk American pushing his way into the room, this is Golton who has been a friend of Saligny’s for a couple of weeks after meeting him on the train from Austria to France, as Saligny had seen a specialist in Austria after he hurt his wrist and back after falling off a horse. Golton doesn’t seem to notice the body. Vautrelle and Louise then enter the room and immediately see the body. Golton comments that Louise chose Saligny over Vautrelle because Saligny had more money. The narrator takes Golton out of the room, and informs him that Saligny has been murdered. Golton demands to leave the gambling hall after giving his address. Hmmm, lots of information here and lots to think about. It’s interesting that the murderer (and I’m presuming this must be Laurent) didn’t come with a weapon, so he therefore must have been very familiar with that room to know the swords were there and were sharp. The doors of the card-room were watched from 11.30pm when Saligny went into the card-room, but not from before so anyone who had gone earlier to the card-room and met Saligny there would not be noted, so I’m wondering if the crime was committed quite soon after Saligny entered. I’m also wondering about when Francois said that no-one went in or out of the door he meant no stranger but that if it was a waiter or a police officer then this may not have been remarked on as these kinds of people were expected to be entering and exiting the room. And with my suspicions of Vautrelle, I remember he had advised Louise to see Saligny after they left Bencolin, so was this because he had earlier murdered Saligny and wanted Louise to find the body? Bencolin’s comments, which he doesn’t explain, are very interesting, the one about Saligny being bent over ‘is the point that is likely to tell us who the murderer is’, why, what does this mean, is it that the murderer dropped something that Saligny then bent over to pick up, but what can Bencolin tell from this, grrrr, why doesn’t he share more with us?! And the comment about ‘a parallel enters the mind’ regarding the head placed in the middle of the floor, is this just a reference to the plastic surgeon’s head placed in a jar, or does it mean something else? I’m thinking the murderer must have put the photos of Saligny into his pockets, but why? And it’s concerning that the murderer has taken Saligny’s keys, what does he plan to do with them, although as he’s apparently posing as a friend of Saligny’s then surely he wouldn’t need keys to enter Saligny’s home or car. And Golton’s appearance is interesting, I’m thinking we’re being led to suspect him as he’s only a recent friend of Saligny, and his bumbling Americanisms and lack of French would be a good disguise for Laurent’s cleverness and skill at languages, but then is this too exaggerated? And very interesting that Vautrelle may have had feelings for Louise and be bitter that she chose Saligny over him. And again I’m thinking Agatha Christie-like and wondering if one of the police officers could be Laurent, as they would be around Saligny and be trusted. Oooh, I’m loving how this is capturing my imagination!

Vautrelle is questioned by Bencolin, with the narrator and Grafenstein in attendance. He says he arrived there at about 10pm with Saligny and Louise and the Kilards, who were ‘forced to leave early’, and Louise then joined her friends. He says that Saligny told him that he had an appointment with a man in the card-room at about 11.30pm and asked Vautrelle to arrange for drinks to be sent to the card-room when he rang the bell-pull, he then left Vautrelle at about 10.55pm to go and play roulette. Vautrelle says he was not interested in playing roulette as he doesn’t like the game, and quotes a passage from Poe regarding roulette. He says he began reading a book that someone had left in the booth in the smoking room, which was Alice in Wonderland, in English. He says at 11.30pm he was speaking to the policeman outside the smoking room for about eight minutes and then walked to where Bencolin and the others were sitting. Bencolin asks Vautrelle what time his watch says and compares this with his own watch which says the same time. Bencolin then rings the bell for the waiter who confirms what Vautrelle said, that the bell-pull in the card-room was rung at 11.30pm, but the waiter adds that it was about 11.40pm before he got the drinks and went to the card-room as the bar-man was busy. The waiter said he knocked on the card-room door from the hall entrance but there was no answer, Francois was then concerned and told him to go in and Francois entered the room with him. Bencolin then speaks to Francois, who confirms that Vautrelle was speaking to him at 11.30pm, he says Vautrelle offered him a cigarette and asked him the time after saying that his watch was slow, Francois confirmed to Vautrelle that it was 11.30pm and then walked with Vautrelle to the clock at the head of the staircase and consulted that clock so Vautrelle could then alter his watch to that correct time. Francois also confirmed that he was watching the card-room door from 11.30pm and is positive that no-one entered or left. Bencolin asks Vautrelle if Saligny spoke English, Vautrelle says he didn’t. Bencolin also asks Vautrelle if he is Russian, which he confirms is the case, saying he came to France ten years ago and has since taken out citizenship papers, that his name in Russia was Major Feydorf and he was in the Russian army. Vautrelle then tells them that he is leaving to take Louise home, clarifying he will take her to her apartment that she lived in before marrying Saligny, rather than to Saligny’s home. Hmmm, again, lots of things to think about here. Why were the Kilards ‘forced to leave early’? Vautrelle quotes Poe and this was one of the favoured books of Laurent, and Vautrelle also reads the Alice in Wonderland book so speaks both English and French well though Russian is his first language so he is a master of languages as is Laurent, I am wondering again if Vautrelle is Laurent or at least that Carr is leading the reader to think this. I am wondering why Bencolin thinks the Alice in Wonderland book is significant, all I can think is that the Queen of Hearts repeatedly orders ‘off with their head’, does Bencolin think this is related to Laurent’s method of killing Saligny and the plastic-surgeon, or that the book was left by Laurent as a clue because of this beheading reference? Why does Bencolin ask if Saligny could speak English, was this purely because he was trying to decide the owner of the Alice in Wonderland book? Why does Vautrelle ask the time from the policeman, is that significant, I am always suspicious of people asking the time in a detective book as it’s a good way to focus someone’s attention on where they were at a particular time, so is he trying to reinforce where he was at a particular time and give himself an alibi? I see on the map that the settee in the card-room is set directly against the wall which adjoins the booths in the smoking room and it was in the booths where Vautrelle sat reading Alice in Wonderland, is this of possible significance, that Laurent and Vautrelle (or are they the same person?) both sat here, although Vautrelle was apparently not sat there at 11.30pm when Saligny enters the card-room as he was stood talking to the policeman. Oooh, so much to puzzle over!

Bencolin tells the narrator and Grafenstein that he thinks Louise was on drugs when she sat with them, and he had taken her cigarette stub from the ashtray at their table in order to prove this, he says the type of drug in the cigarette kills within five years so he concludes the person who got her addicted and is supplying her, is trying to kill her. The owner of the gambling hall, Fenelli, is brought to Bencolin, who has previously looked into his history. Fenelli confirms that the third floor of his hall is used for drug taking and that both Saligny and Louise used drugs there, that both wanted this concealed from the other, that Louise has been using drugs for a long time and that he supplied her with drugs that evening. Bencolin uses this information to state to Grafenstein that Louise was therefore not under a drug hallucination when she said that she saw Laurent in her bathroom, as she didn’t take the drugs until later that evening. When Fenelli leaves, Bencolin and Grafenstein and the narrator talk together about the case, and Bencolin implies that the bell being rung in the card-room is significant. He also asks them to think about how the murderer could have got out of the card-room with both doors being watched, he says there are no false walls, that the murderer didn’t leave via the window, and wasn’t hiding anywhere in the room when they entered. Francois returns with the Alice in Wonderland book, he says the bar-steward is certain that it was not in the booths when he opened up but that the bar-steward can’t see fully into the booths to view who sat there or who left the book that evening, Francois says he has asked the departing guests about the book but no-one has claimed it. Hmmm, I’m interested in Bencolin’s timeline of events that evening (on p72 of my copy), and who witnessed each event, Bencolin also notes that no-one saw Louise or Saligny or Vautrelle in the hallway between 10.20pm-11.30pm, and that no-one saw Saligny between 10.55pm when he left Vautrelle in the smoking room and 11.30pm when he entered the card-room. And I’m intrigued with Bencolin’s statement that the bell being rung is significant, was this to ensure that the waiter arrived to open the door which somehow allows the murderer to leave, but how? And how on earth did the murderer leave the room, that just blows my mind!

While the body is being removed, Bencolin takes a tiny bit of colourless thread from under one of the fingernails. It is stated that the window in the card-room is usually closed, so the narrator puzzles why it was open that evening. Bencolin puzzles why the bell was rung almost immediately after Saligny enters the card-room and who rang it, as he wonders why the murderer would murder Saligny knowing that Saligny had rung the bell and a servant could arrive at any moment, but also why would the murderer ring the bell, Bencolin then goes on to suggest that the bell could have been rung by someone not in the room at all. Bencolin says they will double-check that the card-room has no secret entrance, although he is certain it hasn’t, so he sends the narrator up to the room above to check the floor of that room which is the ceiling of the card-room, while Bencolin checks the floor and walls of the card-room. When the narrator enters the room above the card-room, he finds an English woman there, Sharon Grey, who says she is the mistress of Saligny. She says she loved Saligny but he originally wasn’t interested in her and stated he was loyal to Louise but then after his injury she says he changed as he was moodier and ‘mystic’ and then started a relationship with her. She says Saligny always spoke French to her, related poetry to her, and once related a poem in English to her. She says Saligny was due to meet her there that night at 11pm as he wanted to tell her something saying that she’d ‘appreciate the joke’, she says he had seemed ‘half mad’ when he said this to her, and that he’d also said that that night would be the last time they’d meet. She says however that he didn’t arrive at 11pm. She says however that ‘much later than eleven’ a man came into the room where she was waiting, she said she knew it wasn’t Saligny, and he grasped her wrist and said that Saligny wouldn’t be meeting her as he had ‘an appointment with the worms’, and when she looked at her wrist there was blood on it from his hand. She is told of Saligny’s death by the narrator and he asks her if she knew the man who entered the room or if there is anything she can recall about him, as presumably this was the killer of Saligny, but she says she didn’t know him and can’t recall anything about him but adds that she wouldn’t dare tell even if she knew. The narrator thinks she may suspect who the man was. The narrator then lets her leave by the other door in the room as he feels pity for her, though he says the police will want to speak to her. Bencolin is listening outside the main door to the room and he ensures she is followed, and tells the narrator that she is also the mistress of Vautrelle. Bencolin also says they have thoroughly checked the card-room and there are no trapdoors or secret entrances in either the floor or ceiling. Hmmm, the question about why the bell was rung when the murder is about to take place, or already has taken place, is very interesting, as is Bencolin’s mysterious comment that it could have been rung by someone not in the room, so does he mean via the window or somehow via the booths in the adjoining room? I’ve had a bit of a crazy thought too, that maybe Laurent had plastic surgery to look like Saligny, maybe he murdered the real Saligny some time ago and the man that Louise married was actually Laurent pretending to be Saligny, so therefore when ‘Saligny’ went into the card-room at 11.30pm this was actually Laurent and the real Saligny was already in there dead! Although, hmmm, Laurent still had to get out of the card-room, and presumably the police could have recognised that it wasn’t a freshly killed body, and how would Laurent get the already dead body into the room? Maybe I’ve just made it even more complicated, tee hee! But it just seems a coincidence that Saligny went to Austria for treatment on his wound after falling off his horse, and Laurent went to Austria to see the plastic surgeon. Also Sharon said that Saligny seemed different after his injury, and she also said that Saligny on one occasion quoted from an English poem but Vautrelle said that Saligny couldn’t speak English, so again could this actually be Laurent, who can speak many languages, pretending to be Saligny? And that also makes me wonder if it was ‘Saligny’s’ reflection, ie Laurent as Saligny, that Louise saw in the bathroom and as she was seeing him from a slightly different angle this therefore allowed her to suddenly and briefly see the characteristics of Laurent, not realising that it was ‘Saligny’ she was looking at. And when Laurent (presuming it was him and he had just murdered Saligny) told Sharon in the room above the card-room that Saligny wouldn’t be meeting her that night, did he speak in English to her, I wonder? This would imply that he already knew that she was English and therefore already knew her, perhaps because he was ‘Saligny’ when he had been with her previously. And how did he know that she was meeting Saligny anyway? But anyway, maybe I’m off completely on the wrong track here, going down a rabbit hole like in the Alice book, tee hee. Other questions I have are why Saligny didn’t meet Sharon at 11pm as arranged, and was it because he had already been killed by this time, and is it significant that Saligny chose to meet Sharon in the room directly above the card-room? And I think it’s implied that Sharon leaves the room by another door, so is this a possible way that Laurent could move around the building and enter and leave the card-room unseen, and if so does he appear in this room above the card-room when Sharon is in it because he has just exited from the card-room that way after murdering Saligny? And I’d not realised until the narrator pointed it out, that Saligny spoke English to Golton too, so either Saligny concealed his ability to speak English, or Vautrelle lied when he said that Saligny couldn’t speak English. And is there some significance with the head being separated from the body, could this mean it is Saligny’s head but someone else’s body? But then why, what would be the advantage of doing that? Omg, I am going in circles with this and confusing myself completely (but thoroughly enjoying myself!)!!

I also again adore the writing in this book, some of the lines are just wonderful, such as the narrator standing ‘by a tall window in my drawing-room, smoking many pipes in the dark’, it’s just so very film noir. And the line that the following morning there was ‘a trace of white clouds, like angels washing hung out on a line over the grey roofs of Paris’. 

The following day, Bencolin meets the narrator (who we’ve learnt, after the interaction with Sharon, is called Jeff) and says he knows who the murderer is and will finish the case the following day, but he doesn’t elaborate on this to Jeff. Jeff points out to Bencolin that Grafenstein noticed something last night which ‘so shook him up that he was hardly able to think at all’, though Jeff doesn’t know what this was. Jeff offers several other observations and guesses, which Bencolin listens to but doesn’t comment on and doesn’t say if he agrees or disagrees with, but later Bencolin says to Jeff ‘it may interest you to know that I am afraid you’re right’. Grrr, Bencolin is getting annoying and all Sherlock Holmes-like with hinting that he knows things but not sharing these with Jeff or the reader and giving information in a vague mysterious manner which creates more questions than answers, very very annoying! Which of Jeff’s guesses was right? And what was it that Grafenstein noticed, I remember he was reading the Alice book so was it something in there?

Jeff and Bencolin and Grafenstein meet with Kilard, who says that Saligny was worried before his marriage and had made a will and had asked Kilard to get one million francs for him as he was planning to go somewhere secretly with Louise so wanted enough money so as not to need to communicate with anyone until Laurent was caught. Bencolin asks Kilard if he knows anything about the trowel, meaning the one that Vautrelle put in the bathroom cabinet. Kilard is surprised at the mention of a trowel and thinks they are referring to the incident of a dinner at Saligny’s house the night before his wedding where he and Saligny and Vautrelle talked of famous murders, with Vautrelle mentioning Poe and particularly a story of Fortunato being taken by Montresor to some catacombs to be buried forever and Montresor taking out a trowel from his robe. Kilard says that Saligny seemed shocked and fearful at Vautrelle’s reference to this story and at Vautrelle implying that Saligny was very familiar with the story. Hmmm, I was very intrigued with the names of the famous murderers discussed at their dinner, it makes me want to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and read all about them, I particularly noted Constance Kent’s name as that case has always fascinated me since I read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. And Poe was mentioned again by Vautrelle, at the dinner, who implied that Saligny had also read Poe, are there too many mentions of Poe now with the inevitable link in our mind with Laurent, are we being led down a path here? But what did Vautrelle mean by mentioning this? It seems unlikely that Saligny would have read Poe, so is this a reference to the fact that ‘Saligny’ is Laurent and that Vautrelle knows this? And it makes me think again that I really must read Poe!

They then go to Saligny’s grand house where ‘a line of thin poplars moved slightly, and contrasted with grim motionless chimney-stacks piled against the sky…the noises of Paris came with a muted and mournful quality into this stillness’. They are greeted by Gersault, Saligny’s valet of a few weeks, who Bencolin doesn’t know, even though Bencolin had been at the house before. Gersault says he was told at 2am of Saligny’s death and was surprised as he had thought he’d heard Saligny’s key in the door at about 1am but that when he came down to greet Saligny and Louise there was no-one there. Bencolin states that the person who Gersault had heard coming into the house was the murderer. Bencolin questions Gersault about what keys Saligny had. Gersault mentions a key to a strong box, and Bencolin requests to be taken to this. They find Saligny’s keys in the study door, Gersault seeming to give what Jeff feels is a suspicious smile at Bencolin’s comment that he always seems to be too late for everything. In the study, Bencolin comments on Saligny’s prized possessions which appear to have been neglected and uncared for, and the three glasses left there which Gersault explains were Saligny’s and Vautrelle’s and Kilard’s after their bachelor dinner. Gersault gets the strongbox from inside the drawer of the desk in the study, using the keys from the door, Jeff inwardly noting that Gersault’s face was ‘palely eager’. Gersault states that the papers from the drawer have now gone, although he doesn’t know what these papers were, but when he opens the strongbox the money that Kilard got for Saligny is still there. Gersault states that the cellar key is missing from the bunch of keys. Jeff goes to explore the house further, ‘you could hear, too, the voices of many clocks all ticking through deserted rooms’, and see ‘mirrors reflecting the past’. He meets Bencolin coming up from the cellar with ‘a devilish smile of triumph’. Oooh, what had Bencolin discovered down there in the cellar, and why couldn’t he share it with us, grrr?! And I love the haunting and sinister descriptions of the empty huge house, especially the reference to clocks ticking and mirrors reflecting the past, and the poplars and chimney-stacks outside, it’s all beautifully atmospheric. So Laurent must have known the layout of the house and where the strong box was. And does Jeff’s suspicions of Gersault’s secretive smile mean anything? 

Jeff goes into the garden and finds Sharon Grey there, it is obvious that he is smitten with her. They bicker at one another and then laugh together. She says she came there to try to feel closer to Saligny, as she says she just feels empty. Saligny’s body is then brought to the house, as Jeff and Sharon watch. She invites Jeff to her home in Versailles for dinner that evening. After she leaves, Jeff kicks himself for not questioning her about the case, particularly as Bencolin then appears and laughs at him, making it obvious he had been listening to their conversation. Jeff questions Bencolin on what he has found at the house, and Bencolin says he was searching for handwriting but that it has all been removed, however he has found a Zodiac no.4 pencil, and he seems satisfied with this find. Hmmm, I’m not so interested in this relationship with Sharon, I see it as a distraction of the main story, plus I struggle to like her with how she moves so swiftly from man to man, Vautrelle to Saligny and now seemingly to Jeff. Is she even mourning Saligny, I wonder? And I know I keep holding onto my idea that Laurent was ‘Saligny’ but Bencolin searching for handwriting and not finding any, makes me wonder if he thinks the same and that Laurent returned to the house to take away any papers which could reveal that the handwriting on them was his and not Saligny’s. And could this also be confirmed by the neglect of Saligny’s prized possessions and trophies, is this also a sign that it was Laurent as ‘Saligny’ so he didn’t care for these items as the real Saligny would have done? And what is the importance of the pencil?!

The three men go to Louise’s apartment. Golton is there, but Louise seems bored by him and he seems to be overstaying his welcome. Bencolin asks Louise about Vautrelle, and she says he is a devil. She says Vautrelle wanted Saligny to back him financially with a play he has written. She says she is certain that Vautrelle isn’t Laurent, as Vautrelle was with Saligny at the time that Laurent was in the asylum. She says Vautrelle used to go to fencing lessons with Saligny and that Vautrelle can be found at the fencing hall every afternoon. Bencolin asks her about Sharon, and she says that Sharon is man-mad and was crazy about Saligny and used to write to him all the time but that Saligny felt nothing for her. Bencolin says they believe that Laurent has disguised himself as someone known to Saligny and asks her if she thinks Laurent would be capable of this, she says that Laurent was very gifted at this and she had seen him imitate many people with correct gestures and mannerisms and language and that he could easily put on weight. Hmmm, so Vautrelle would be good with a sword then, having fencing lessons, although I feel like I am being led to think this by the author!

The three of them then go to the fencing hall, where Vautrelle challenges Bencolin to a practice duel, which Bencolin declines. Vautrelle says he is going to Versailles that evening, and Bencolin mentions that Jeff is going to Versailles too, for dinner with Sharon. Jeff gets the impression that Bencolin is teasing both of them in order to force a reaction from Vautrelle. Bencolin questions the fencing master about Saligny, and he confirms that Saligny’s prowess as a fencer allowed him to be treated as royalty and he could therefore travel into countries without having his luggage searched at customs. The three men then go to police headquarters where Bencolin annoys Jeff and Grafenstein by getting updates from Francois and making reference to tests done on the Alice book and talking about comparing specimens of drugs but not explaining any of this any further to them. Francois says that the autopsy on Saligny has confirmed that he’d been using opium for over a year, also that the fingerprints on the card-room window were Laurent’s, and the thread is ‘precisely as monsieur had predicted’ and is distinct to the Merveille factory and that another thread was found under Saligny’s fingernail and another under the window. Francois then tells Bencolin that his reconstruction of the crime is correct. Bencolin does share with Jeff and Grafenstein that investigations have been done on Vautrelle and he was never a Russian officer, he was actually born in Marseilles, and since coming to Paris he has had no employment but his bank account shows monthly cheques from Fenelli. Hmmm, I am glad Jeff and Grafenstein are getting frustrated by Bencolin hinting at discoveries but not explaining them, as am I! And are we thinking the threads are from an item of clothing that Laurent was wearing, though I’m obviously curious what Bencolin could have surmised about the thread which was exactly as he had predicted?

Jeff heads to Versailles for his dinner date with Sharon, ‘Paris stirring to wakefulness around me…alive with honking horns and darting auto lights that swept past and were lost, fleeting conversation, fleeting faces’. When he arrives, Sharon is scornfully and mockingly dismissing Vautrelle, who is clearly angry. After Vautrelle has left, Jeff sees him standing outside by the garden gate with his arms upraised and he thinks he sees the gate slowly open behind him. Jeff then turns back to Sharon in the room, though he thinks he possibly hears a faint cry from the garden but dismisses it as nerves. Sharon tells Jeff that Vautrelle has written a play and had brought it to her for her to read over, she says it’s about a murderer with a perfect alibi but that she doesn’t yet know the ending. She also says she is afraid of Vautrelle so had decided to end her relationship with him that night when Jeff was there, so she had Jeff for protection if needed. They then have dinner in the garden, and when they are talking about books she says that she has never read Alice and that Saligny was going to get a copy for her, but he forgot so she got a copy herself. They walk in the dark garden after dinner and sit down on a bench which backs onto bushes and trees. Sharon remarks how cold Jeff’s hand is on her shoulder and Jeff slowly realises that he has both his hands in his lap. He swiftly drags Sharon to her feet and they look back at the bench to see a body lent there from out of the bushes. It is Vautrelle’s body with the head nearly severed from it. Eeeek, surely the discovery of Vautrelle’s body has to take top marks for creepy sinisterness, having Sharon remark about Jeff’s cold hand on her shoulder and then Jeff slowly realising it isn’t his hand….,wow! It’s beautifully done, really memorable and dramatic! And why has Vautrelle been murdered, presumably by Laurent? Was it because he knew the secret identity of Laurent, who then killed him to preserve the secret? Is Vautrelle’s play relevant, with the murderer who has the perfect alibi, does Vautrelle hint at the real circumstances in this play so he then has to be silenced? Or had Laurent used Vautrelle’s storyline to guide his own plans, and Vautrelle had then guessed this? And why was Vautrelle murdered there in Sharon’s garden where there was a risk the murderer would be discovered, was it in order to send some kind of message to Sharon? And is it a coincidence that Sharon and Jeff sat on the very bench which Vautrelle’s body was lent against, or was Laurent in the garden listening to their talk and quietly crept up with the body to place it against the bench they were sitting at? And the Alice book is mentioned again with Sharon saying that Saligny was going to bring her a copy, so was this then the book in the booth that Saligny was going to give to Sharon that night? Or was it Sharon’s copy that she had bought for herself, and she was in the booth that night? And is there any significance to this book anyway apart from the irony of ‘off with their head’? And I loved the description of Paris at night, very like a film with scenes shooting by. And, eeeek, I absolutely and totally and completely adore the publisher’s note that at the end of this chapter that in the original book ‘readers were offered a refund from their bookseller for returning the book without having broken the physical seal to reveal the subsequent pages of the novel, on the basis that they should now be able to ‘guess the criminal with the clues supplied’. Omg, that is wonderful teasing and drama and arrogance from the author, I love it! And I’m sure that no-one did return the book with the seal unbroken, how could you resist the temptation to go on even if you felt sure you had guessed correctly? That is marketing genius though, such a clever idea! I’ve since learnt that this was a technique used often by American Golden Age detective authors, tee hee, I just love it, such a great idea! 

Bencolin then ‘sauntered’ into the garden. Sharon has fainted so Jeff takes her inside and Bencolin recommends that a doctor be summoned as she is suffering from shock. Bencolin says he was ‘guarding the wrong person’, he also says ‘I knew who the murderer was before I came here’. Bencolin says that Vautrelle was stabbed twice by the garden gate, then was dragged the short distance to the bench and then the knife was used to dismember the head. He looks at tyre tracks in the lane and deduces that the murderer arrived by taxi, so says he should be able to trace the taxi driver in a few hours. Vautrelle’s car is still parked in the lane. Bencolin also presumes that the murderer must have discarded the weapon, rather than bring it back into the taxi with them, and after a short search he finds it. Bencolin takes the play from Vautrelle’s pocket. Jeff realises that if he’d stood longer watching Vautrelle by the gate, then he could have seen the murderer. Jeff questions why Vautrelle was killed, and Bencolin reminds him that Vautrelle was also a suitor of Louise. Jeff stays with Sharon after the doctor’s visit, watching over her as she sleeps, and reads Vautrelle’s play, wondering whether there is anything that could be inferred from it about the murders, that perhaps Vautrelle thought he knew who the murderer was and so the killer then killed him to avoid being exposed, or whether Vautrelle had shared the plot of his play with someone who then put it into action so Vautrelle then recognised this and therefore knew who the killer was so the killer had to silence him. In watching through the night, Jeff notes ‘the clock, the murmur from the trees, the slow drip of a faucet in the bath…the dying moon…the light rain of dawn began to patter on the roof’. Oooh, so many questions! Who was Bencolin guarding, was it Jeff or Sharon? And had Bencolin been there all evening? How and when did he get there? Where is his vehicle? But if he’d been there all evening, then how did he miss seeing the murder? And did he know a murder had been committed when he ‘sauntered’ up to Jeff and Sharon, or was he sauntering up to them for another reason? It appears that he did realise there had been a murder, by him stating that Jeff was no better a preventer of crime than him, but then how did he know the murder had happened? Was he alerted by Jeff and Sharon’s raised voices, or had he seen the blood at the gate? No-one had called the police at that point, after all. I could almost suspect Bencolin of being the murderer if it didn’t appear that he features in other detective stories by Dickson Carr, and that Jeff knows him so well, and that he was obviously in sight himself when Saligny was murdered in the card-room, but him turning up there shortly after Vautrelle’s murder had been committed, oooh, it all looks suspicious. And grrr, Bencolin does frustrate me by casually saying he knows who the murderer is and yet not telling Jeff or the reader! And why hadn’t Bencolin arrested the murderer then, if he knew who it was, as that would have then prevented this second murder from happening. And it seems that Laurent had dragged Vautrelle’s body to the bench before Sharon and Jeff headed out there to eat dinner, so how did he know where they’d sit in order to conveniently place the body near them? Although I guess the outside table was already laid for dinner so he would have known they’d be sat there and perhaps it was logical they’d then sit on that nearby bench after eating. Laurent doesn’t seem to have prepared for the murder of Vautrelle though, like he prepared for the murder of Saligny, as he didn’t bring a proper weapon, and he could have easily been seen by Jeff and Sharon in the house if they had looked towards the gate, and his identity could be given away by the taxi driver. And thinking about the taxi driver, did Laurent ask him to wait while he committed the murder, if so then how did the taxi driver not see or hear anything? And surely Laurent would have been covered in blood on his return, surely the taxi driver would have seen that? I’m therefore thinking he surely can’t have asked the taxi driver to wait, which means he must have left on foot. Or is he still there in the grounds? Or perhaps he was the driver of the taxi himself? And Laurent didn’t take Vautrelle’s play from his pocket, so perhaps the play isn’t a threat to him like Jeff (and I) thought it could have been. And again, I love the description of the background noises of the house as Jeff sits and watches over Sharon, very atmospheric.

Bencolin and Jeff go to the gambling hall again, they meet Gersault there who says he is looking for employment now that Saligny is dead but that he could not find Fenelli to ask him about a job. They find Fenelli and it is obvious to them that he has just been forcing sexual favours from Louise in payment for drugs. After Louise leaves, Bencolin tells Jeff that Louise has been made a drug addict, though he says that Louise didn’t see them there so doesn’t know that they know what she has been driven to, so he’s thankful she has been spared that humiliation. Bencolin tells Fenelli that Vautrelle has been murdered, and that they know that Vautrelle supplied Fenelli with people to take his drugs, and that several cheques from Louise were found made out to Vautrelle. He accuses Fenelli of making Louise pay twice and probably blackmailing her with the threat of exposing her to Saligny, and he sternly warns Fenelli against doing any other business with Louise. As they leave, Jeff asks Bencolin if the same person committed both murders, and Bencolin confirms this was so, saying that the murderer is ‘utterly cold-blooded and cynical, and who firmly believes that these acts are done justifiably, to avenge wrongs’. Jeff asks if the murderer ‘is here, we have seen him, talked to him, known him as a figure in this case?’, and Bencolin confirms this is so. Jeff is beginning to view Bencolin as ‘a little of the charlatan, he intimated that he knew so much, yet in demonstration he appeared to know nothing at all’. Oh dear, that is so sad with Louise being so desperate, what an unhappy person she must be. And Bencolin’s description of the murderer avenging wrongs is intriguing, as is the confirmation that he is someone known to them. Grrr, who?! I can heartily agree with Jeff’s view of Bencolin!

Bencolin takes Jeff and Grafenstein and Kilard to Saligny’s house, saying he will explain the case to them. He takes them down to the wine-cellar, also taking with him a pick, and tells Jeff to smash in one of the cellar walls. Jeff does this and the wall collapses, and there is a body sat in the hollow behind the wall. Bencolin tells them that this is Saligny, and that Laurent had been impersonating Saligny and it is Laurent who is laying dead in the coffin upstairs. Omg!! I can hardly believe that I was right with Saligny being Laurent! Obviously I still have 101 questions, but I do feel pleased that I had suspected that, although perhaps it was obvious to every reader!

Bencolin says that Laurent killed Saligny and put him in the cellar wall, and then someone else killed Laurent and Vautrelle. He explains that Laurent and Saligny were physically fairly similar and this resemblance to Laurent is what attracted Louise to Saligny, as she did love Laurent until he revealed himself as mad and tried to kill her. Bencolin says that he had suspected Laurent was Saligny because Saligny spoke no other languages, had worshipped Louise and was attracted to no other women, was uninterested in poetry and history, and yet the ‘Saligny’ who came back from Vienna after the treatment for his injury seemed opposite to this, quoting poetry and debating famous historical murderers, having an affair with Sharon, speaking English fluently, and shunning all his former acquaintances and getting a new servant in Gersault who did all his writing for him as ‘Saligny’ maintained he couldn’t write due to the injury to his right hand and yet the injury was to his left hand, this alerted Bencolin to the suspicion that ‘Saligny’ was wanting to conceal his writing in case it was recognised as different, he also says that ‘Saligny’ smoked opium, which the real Saligny never would have done as a sportsman. Bencolin says that when ‘Saligny’ brought him the threatening note written by Laurent, and which was obviously written by Laurent himself pretending to be Saligny, they found that the paper and pencil used were quite rare and were from Saligny’s house. Bencolin also says that he had discovered that Laurent’s name had been erased from the flyleaf of the Alice book which ‘Saligny’ had brought to give to Sharon, as their tools at the police station allowed them to read this erased name. Bencolin says he realised that Laurent must have killed Saligny in Vienna, as Golton spoke with ‘Saligny’ in English on the train from Vienna to Paris. He says that Laurent had brought Saligny’s body back in his trunk, knowing this trunk wouldn’t be opened at customs because Saligny had royal status, and concealed the body in Saligny’s house as he couldn’t risk the body being found in Vienna or anywhere else and having it identified as Saligny, and Bencolin says he had suspected that the body was in the cellar because ‘Saligny’ had begun keeping the cellar key always with him. Bencolin says the reason that photos of Saligny were found on the body of ‘Saligny’ was because Laurent frequently referred to them in order to ensure he was replicating Saligny correctly. Becolin says he suspects that Laurent’s plan was to reveal his true identity to Louise and then take her down to the cellar to show her the body of Saligny and then kill her, and to disappear with the money he had asked Kilard to draw out for him. Bencolin says he presumes this desire to show Saligny’s body to Louise explains why Laurent hadn’t yet disposed of the body, as he would have had time to dispose of it if he had wished to. Bencolin then proceeds to take the fingerprints of the dead ‘Saligny’ in the coffin, and these match ones of Laurent he has brought with him. He says that Vautrelle must have guessed that Laurent was impersonating Saligny and must have guessed that Saligny’s body was concealed in the cellar wall, so he demonstrated to Laurent that he knew this by mentioning the Poe story of a man being walled up in a cellar which then shocked Laurent as he realised that Vautrelle then knew. Bencolin says he examined Saligny’s body in the wall the day before and concluded that he’d been killed by a heavy blow to the back of the head about three weeks ago, and that it probably happened in Saligny’s hotel room in Vienna as Laurent could have moved easily through the hotel looking like Saligny and Saligny wasn’t surrounded by friends in Vienna as he would have been in Paris. Bencolin says he didn’t reveal the existence of the body as he was hoping to trap someone by using it as bait. Hmmm, I’m intrigued by him trying to trap someone, who was he trying to trap? Is he saying that the murderer of Laurent and Vautrelle also knew about Saligny’s body in the cellar? I guess Vautrelle did know as he’d hinted to Laurent that he knew. So what about the trowel in the bathroom, did Vautrelle put that there to signify to Laurent that he knew everything?

Bencolin then announces that Louise lied when she said she’d seen Laurent in the bathroom and he’d dropped the trowel, and that she lied because she is the murderer of Laurent and Vautrelle. Bencolin says that he had suspected Louise almost from the beginning, and had gone to Sharon’s house thinking that Louise would attack her and didn’t guess it would be Vautrelle she would attack. Bencolin says he has enough evidence to ensure Louise goes to the guillotine. Eeek, I wasn’t prepared for that, I never dreamt Louise was the murderer! I was feeling sorry for her and of how she’d been controlled and manipulated by the men in her life, and potentially would have been by Laurent again with his plan to reveal his identity to her and then reveal Saligny’s body to her. Surely she won’t be punished as a murderer, surely all the mental torture she has gone through, as well as her being under the influence of drugs, will be taken into account in order to explain why she killed Laurent at least, surely that could almost be self-defence? But I guess the murders were quite brutal so perhaps this will be used to demonstrate her viciousness and that mercy shouldn’t be shown to her. But I still have so many questions, such as how how how did Louise kill Laurent in the card-room when she was sat with Bencolin and the others? And grrrr, with Bencolin saying that he guessed it was Louise ‘almost from the beginning’, I would have empathised with Jeff punching him for that, tee hee! 

Bencolin then explains the evidence, and how he reached his conclusion that Louise was guilty. He says that Louise left ash from her cigarette on the floor of the card-room, and threw the cigarette out of the window which he later found with her lipstick on. He says the threads under Laurent’s fingernail were from Louise silk stocking, which he scratched as he fell. He says the taxi driver has confirmed that he took Louise to Sharon’s house that night. Bencolin says he has found a blood-stained cloak in Louise’s room, and found her fingerprints on the knife that Vautrelle was killed with. He also says he knew it was a woman who had killed Laurent, as he’d realised that Laurent could only be in that kneeling position because he was tying a lady’s slipper. Bencolin takes them to Fenelli’s in order to explain further exactly how Louise killed Laurent. They go to Fenelli’s office and find him bent over his safe taking out drugs, with Louise apparently about to hit him on the back of the head with a paper-weight. Bencolin tells her he is aware that she has been victimised, and that she gave lots of money to Vautrelle as she loved him and was the one helping him with his play but that Vautrelle was actually having an affair with Sharon. Bencolin says that the plan of how to kill Laurent was devised by Vautrelle from the play he was writing, and he had told Louise that they would both then disappear afterwards with the money she would inherit as Saligny’s widow, and this was also why Vautrelle was keen to conceal that Laurent was impersonating Saligny as Louise wouldn’t inherit the money otherwise as Saligny’s widow. Bencolin says that from when Laurent (as Saligny) left the smoking room at 10.55pm, saying he was going to play roulette, he was not seen again, as he was in the card-room. Louise takes over the explanation saying that she had gone through with Vautrelle’s plan of marrying Laurent again (as ‘Saligny’), she says that Vautrelle was going to be the one to do the killing but earlier in the evening she had realised that he was too cowardly to do it so she told him that she would do it instead. She says she had taken drugs that evening and felt such anger towards Laurent and heard voices telling her to kill him. She says she followed Vautrelle’s plan of hiding the sword in the settee, when Laurent was in the smoking room with Vautrelle, then when Laurent left the smoking room she met him and took him to the card-room. She adds that she dropped her cigarette and asked Laurent to open the window so she could throw it out. She says they kissed and she drew him towards the settee and then asked him to fasten her slipper. She says she then grabbed the sword and almost fainted with what she was going to do, but she shut her eyes and then struck out with the sword and when she opened her eyes she saw his head on the ground as she had cut it off completely, although Vautrelle’s plan had been that his face would be struck in two by the sword so as to disfigure it and therefore remove any chance of it being guessed that he wasn’t Saligny. She says it was then 11.15pm. She says she came out of the card-room into the hall where Vautrelle was waiting for her, and no-one saw her come out of the card-room and no-one had earlier seen her and Laurent go into the card-room. She says that Vautrelle then reminded her that she needed to be sat with other people in the alcove at 11.30pm so as to give herself an alibi, but also so she can point out Vautrelle as ‘Saligny’ as he enters the card-room, so she joined Bencolin and his group. She says that Vautrelle then entered the card-room pretending to be Saligny, as they looked sufficiently alike from that distance both being tall and with the same colour hair, and to reinforce this she also stated that it was Saligny entering the room. She says Vautrelle swiftly walked across the card-room, pulling the bell-cord, and exited into the hall and then immediately went into the smoking room then exited the smoking room by the other door and then asked the time of the detective standing there, and that this was done so quickly that it was still 11.30pm when Vautrelle was asking the detective the time so he therefore had an alibi for the time that Saligny was presumed to have died, as did Louise as she was sat with Bencolin. She says that Vautrelle had invented the story of ‘Saligny’ meeting someone at 11.30pm and wanting drinks brought. She says that Vautrelle had taken the keys from Laurent’s pocket, and went to the house to check there was nothing left there hinting he wasn’t Saligny, such as handwriting on papers or in a diary, and that he left the keys in the study door as he wanted people to think that ‘Saligny’ had destroyed the papers himself, and he left the money in the box as he didn’t want to arouse suspicion by stealing it. She says he kept the key to the cellar, however, as he didn’t want anyone to go looking down there. Bencolin says that Vautrelle keeping the cellar key actually drew more attention to the cellar and made him think something was concealed in there. Bencolin tells Louise that Vautrelle must have taken a second to bend over Laurent’s body to get some blood on him, which he then smeared onto Sharon’s wrist as he was jealous of Laurent and Sharon being together, Bencolin says he presumes that Vautrelle had overheard Laurent arranging to meet with Sharon that evening. Louise is shocked that Laurent loved Sharon, as did Vautrelle. Louise shows them the wounds that Fenelli had inflicted on her, which she submitted to due to her craving for the drugs, she says, ‘Don’t you think I’ve had enough of being shamed?…Isn’t there anyone in the world who can understand what I’ve been through?’. Jeff inwardly sympathises with her, thinking that she ‘finds nobody with whom the smallest confidence will not lead to disaster’, and Kilard pleads with Bencolin to let her go. Louise says she killed Vautrelle because he had told her he loved her and she’d given him all her money and then realised that he was using it to support Sharon, she says learning about Vautrelle’s relationship with Sharon ‘nearly broke me in pieces’. She says she knew that Vautrelle was going to Sharon that night when he told her he had a business engagement, so she took a knife from the house, a sporting souvenir of Saligny’s, and she says she didn’t care who saw her but she just wanted to repay Vautrelle for what he’d done to her, so she smoked some of the drugs and then felt she was capable of anything, so she went to Sharon’s and saw Vautrelle by the gate and attacked him. Hmmm, the book seems to end quite suddenly with the line ‘She had kept her appointments with three men, she would have murdered them all’. But the book doesn’t state what Bencolin decided to do with Louise, did he let her go free or perhaps let her kill herself? The final mention of Bencolin is that he ‘sat motionless on the divan, staring at the lamp’. I can’t help feeling sorry for Louise and wishing for some mercy for her, she really has been abused by all the men in her life. Well, I guess she wasn’t abused by Saligny and perhaps she would have been happy with him if he’d not been killed by Laurent, although she loved Vautrelle at that time so probably wouldn’t have been happy with Saligny. But she had no-one to turn to, no-one who wasn’t taking advantage of her for their own ends. And she acted under the influence of drugs, which she’d been pushed into and made addicted to. It really does seem unfair to have her jailed and facing the death penalty, I find myself hoping she’d leapt out of the window to her death instead.

I love looking back through a detective book once I’ve finished it and seeing if everything is explained, every loose end tied up, if the clues were indeed given to us (which I wasn’t clever enough to read correctly), if any of my wild guesses were right even though I wasn’t able to see the whole picture, and if the author has relied on some sneaky coincidences to enable it all to happen, which then does disappoint me slightly but doesn’t affect my enjoyment and admiration of the book. And I suspect I over-analyse the book and all the plot twists once I’ve finished, but it’s a compliment to the author that I’ve enjoyed it so much and want to spend time tying up everything in my mind and appreciating all the subtleness of their planning, and it also demonstrates my reluctance to put the book down and consider it finished even though I have reached the last page. So all my detailed (very detailed!) thoughts are below:

It’s kind of two mysteries in this book, one being who Laurent could be disguised as when he said he was someone close to Saligny, which effectively made me suspect everyone in turn, and then of course how the murderer escaped from the card-room without being seen. So twice the fun really!

But the whole solution of how the murderer exited the card-room without being seen is very very very sneaky and took me quite some time to get straight in my head, and I’m still not sure if it’s a little too unfairly sneaky! So Laurent (as Saligny) was killed earlier than 11.30pm (but no-one discovered the body earlier, which strikes me as extremely lucky!) so the murderer (Louise) left the room at that point unseen. But everyone thought that ‘Saligny’ had only entered the card-room at 11.30pm and that this was the time of the murder, so Vautrelle was speaking to Francois at 11.30pm as it was only a few seconds’ time lapse between Vautrelle entering the card-room as Saligny and then exiting it and speaking to Francois, it was all done within the minute of 11.30pm so Vautrelle does have his alibi but this was only possible because Laurent was already dead before 11.30pm. Very very sneaky that we’re being asked to find a solution to something which didn’t actually happen, there was no 10-15 minute time-frame after 11.30pm for the murderer to have secretly left the card-room, as Vautrelle came out just a few seconds after he entered and Laurent was already dead at that time. Plus there’s the handy coincidence that Francois wasn’t watching the other card-room door when Vautrelle exited it. But when I say ‘sneaky’, I am also full of admiration for the cleverness and deviousness of the plot (though it does feel a tad closer to ‘sneakiness’ than ‘deviousness’).

One of the main things that niggles at me though, was the several occasions of extreme luckiness that occurred throughout the story. One example is that Louise and Laurent weren’t seen entering the card-room, as well as the extreme luckiness that Louise wasn’t seen exiting the card-room either after killing Laurent. Another example of extreme luckiness was that no-one went into the card-room while Laurent was laying there dead, as I remember that Fenelli said that the card-room hadn’t been used that night which therefore implies that it was used fairly regularly so it then seems a lucky coincidence that it wasn’t being used that night so Louise could murder Laurent in there and his body could lay there for 15 minutes undisturbed. Then there’s the extreme luckiness again that Vautrelle wasn’t seen exiting the card-room into the hall, when he’d walked through the card-room pretending to be Saligny. It was also extreme luckiness that Louise wasn’t seen by Jeff killing Vautrelle, after Jeff was looking out of the window and then turned away, though he thought he heard a faint cry. Hmmm, a bit too much reliance on extreme luckiness for me.

And another thing that niggles at me, now we know the full plot, is Bencolin’s cryptic comments. Some of these I can see the answer to now, but some still puzzle me. One is when he said that Laurent’s head was placed in that position by the murderer, and he then gives the cryptic comment of ‘a parallel enters the mind’, so what parallel is this? Does he mean the fact that the plastic surgeon’s head was removed? But there was no connection between these two crimes, as they were done by different people. Another cryptic comment was him saying that he didn’t reveal the existence of Saligny’s body in the cellar as he was hoping to trap someone by using it as bait, so who did he mean by this? Vautrelle, because Bencolin knew at that point that Vautrelle was involved in Laurent’s murder, although he wasn’t the one who actually killed Laurent? Or Louise, but then did she actually know the body was there in the cellar, had Vautrelle told her this? Another cryptic comment is when he suggested that the bell could have been rung by someone not in the card-room at all, what did he mean by this? It was rung by someone in the room (Vautrelle, as he walked through the room pretending to be Saligny), so what was Bencolin actually thinking about this? Some of his cryptic comments that I can now see the sense of, are when he said that the fact that Laurent seemed to have been bent over when he was struck and that this was ‘the point that is likely to tell us who the murderer is’, so by this he meant that the murderer must have been a woman as he imagined that Laurent had bent down to tie her slipper, which was a very clever deduction from Bencolin. And when he said that Vautrelle was killed because he was also a suitor of Louise, so by this he meant that Louise’s main motive for killing Vautrelle was jealousy that he had cheated on her with Sharon.

I have thought more about the rare pencil that was used to write the threatening note to ‘Saligny’, and which Bencolin was pleased to find at Saligny’s house which confirmed to him that ‘Saligny’ wasn’t actually Saligny, as I did wonder if this couldn’t have meant that someone else in Saligny’s house, such as the very suspicious butler Gersault, had written the letter. I guess if Bencolin had already guessed that ‘Saligny’ was actually Laurent then him finding the pencil helped confirm for him that his reasoning was correct, but, like I say, I think there were other options regarding the pencil, and Gersault was being made to look suspicious and sinister, even though this was obviously a red herring (yet another red herring!).  

And regarding Laurent’s decapitated head (not words that I often write!), I am presuming that it was Vautrelle who placed the head there, but then that makes me question why and when he did this? Was it just to demonstrate his superiority over Laurent (though Laurent was at that time oblivious to it, being dead!) as he was jealous that Laurent had also been involved with Sharon? Or was it to deliberately get blood on his hands so he could then wipe this blood on Sharon when he went upstairs to scare her? This then leads me to the ‘when’ part of my question, when did Vautrelle move the head and get the blood on his hand that he wiped on Sharon? If we’re saying he moved the head and got blood on him during that minute that he walked through the room as Saligny when he pulled the bell-pull, then did he run upstairs to Sharon at that point to wipe the blood on her before going to speak to Francois to establish his alibi? But he’d surely then have gone over the 11.30pm minute that he needed in order to establish his alibi. Or did he do those things and then speak to Francois and then sit with Bencolin and Louise, while all the time having blood on his hand, and then run upstairs to Sharon after that? Or did he go into the card-room earlier, after Louise had killed Laurent but before he went through the room as Saligny and pressed the bell-pull, and did those things then and ran up to Sharon at that point? I am favouring this final suggestion as most likely, I think, and also as Sharon said it was ‘much later than eleven’ then I think this implies it was later than 11pm but before 11.30pm as surely she’d have said ‘later than 11.30pm’ if it was after that time. But it does seem risky for him to enter the card-room twice (and extremely lucky not to be seen either entering or exiting it!). But I am really quite puzzled by this, I’m not sure if it’s me missing something or the author has missed a loose end.

And (not to labour this point too much but…!) Vautrelle also at some point took the keys from Laurent’s body (so he could go to Saligny’s house and destroy any paperwork that contained Laurent’s handwriting, as he didn’t want anyone to realise that the body in the card-room was actually Laurent and not Saligny), so did he also pick up the keys at the same time that he moved the head and got the blood on his hands, whenever that was? Surely he didn’t enter the room a third time?! But he certainly had a busy evening! 

And then on the (slightly different, I promise, though admittedly related!) subject of Vautrelle going to the room upstairs where Sharon was, I did puzzle a bit with Sharon saying she didn’t know the man who came into the room, as I am presuming that she recognised him as Vautrelle but it then seemed strange that she then meet Vautrelle alone at her house to finish their relationship if she thought he was the killer. I guess she had ensured that Jeff would also be there to keep her safe, but she had launched into breaking up with Vautrelle before Jeff had arrived and was thoroughly scornful and mocking towards him which seems a bit risky of someone she knew was a murderer. 

And thinking about Sharon, I wonder if Laurent was going to kill her that night, before he took Louise home to view Saligny’s body in the cellar and then kill Louise (obviously all that didn’t happen because he himself was murdered). Sharon said that ‘Saligny’ (Laurent) had told her he would meet her in the room above the card-room that night at 11pm as he wanted to tell her something and that she’d ‘appreciate the joke’ and that he’d also told her that that night would be the last time they’d meet. We know it obviously was the last night for Laurent as he was killed by Louise that night, but I do wonder if Laurent would have killed Sharon too that evening, and she had a narrow escape courtesy of Louise killing Laurent! Or was the ‘joke’ he was going to tell her, the fact that he wasn’t Saligny and that he had already killed Saligny a few weeks before and was about to murder Louise? But Sharon could then have revealed this and stopped him, unless he was going to restrain her or kill her.

And I realise we’ve not found out where the body of Laurent’s plastic surgeon is, I’d kind of expected that to be part of the answers and tidying everything up. 

And also on the subject of the plastic surgeon, I think it was a bit sneaky having his head placed in one of his own jars of alcohol, as this then made it seem a similar method to the murder of Laurent (as Saligny) and the murder of Vautrelle, with their heads being chopped off, so this made me presume that chopping off the victim’s head was Laurent’s trademark and therefore it must be Laurent as the murderer. But actually the method of the Laurent killing, done by Louise, was unplanned and impulsive and it was only coincidental that it involved the head being chopped off. So a link put in by the author, that wasn’t actually a link really. And I do also wonder why Louise bothered cutting off Vautrelle’s head, as Bencolin said that Vautrelle was stabbed twice by the garden gate and was then dragged the short distance to the bench and then the knife was used to dismember the head. I wonder if Louise would really feel a need to make that statement and cut off his head, or if it was just the author continuing to mislead us with making us think that the murderer is Laurent as his trademark is cutting off heads. And possibly for the drama too, as it was certainly very dramatic! 

Laurent (as Saligny) wrote to Bencolin asking him for protection and asking him to try and find Laurent. But why would Laurent invite police attention by pretending that ‘Saligny’ was being threatened and followed by Laurent? Surely it’d be safer for him to quietly impersonate Saligny with minimum attention drawn to himself, and then murder Louise and disappear with the money, perhaps leaving some kind of a clue then that it was all done by the infamous Laurent. Did he invite police attention in order to try and make Louise more fearful? Or because he was conceited enough to think he was cleverer than the police and was looking forward to seeing them fooled? Or have I misunderstood, and the letter was actually written by Vautrelle in order to reinforce the idea that the man he is shortly to murder is Saligny, rather than it being Laurent he is about to kill? 

I’m curious what Laurent’s plan was for after he’d shown Louise the body of Saligny in the cellar and then murdered her (as obviously he didn’t intend to be murdered himself whilst he was Saligny). Was he planning to leave Saligny’s body displayed in the cellar to be found alongside Louise’s body, so it was obvious that he had killed them both? Or would he have concealed Saligny’s body after he’d shown it to Louise and killed her, so it was thought that Saligny had disappeared in fear of Laurent, or been kidnapped by Laurent? 

And how did Vautrelle discover that Saligny’s body was in the cellar? I guess he suspected that ‘Saligny’ was not actually Saligny, with knowing Saligny so well, and then guessed from that that Saligny must be dead, but the body could have been in any number of places, so what made him look in the cellar of Saligny’s house? And how did he sneak down there to search for a body without Laurent discovering him? 

And I remembered that Laurent had told Grafenstein, when he was arrested for the attempted murder of Louise, that he had a way of getting into houses, but this wasn’t developed further, was it, so how did he get into those houses? And again (like with the chopping off of the heads) this made me think that the killer of ‘Saligny’ was Laurent as he was known to be able to secretly get into and out of places, such as the card-room, but the card-room murder was not done by Laurent so the mention of his ability to secretly get into and out of rooms is again misleading. Or could there be a link in that this gave Vautrelle the idea of murdering Laurent in a locked room, so it would then be more believable that Laurent was the murderer as he was known to be able to get in and out of places secretly?

So the garden trowel that was found on the bathroom floor, which Vautrelle put in the medicine chest after Louise had screamed saying she had seen Laurent, are we thinking this story was all devised by Louise and Vautrelle, either together or separately (as it obviously had nothing to do with Laurent)? So then was it just a story for Bencolin, or a story for Laurent (as Saligny) meaning Louise did actually scream when Laurent and Vautrelle were in the room and Vautrelle then ‘found’ the trowel on the bathroom floor which he’d presumably already placed there? If the second, then was all this done to spook Laurent with the trowel hint (the same way as Vautrelle spooked him at dinner with the mention of a trowel and the Poe book with the body behind a wall)? But surely too many hints that they knew that Laurent was pretending to be Saligny and that he had the real Saligny’s body hidden in the cellar, was risking Laurent realising that he had been discovered and then perhaps acting impulsively either by killing them or by escaping, which would mean that their plan of killing him would be jeopardised. Or if the first (so the whole thing never happened at all, Louise never screamed and there never was a trowel) then why would Louise tell this story to Bencolin, was it just to reinforce the thinking that Laurent was around and a threat to them, or was it the influence of the drugs and the adrenaline from having just killed Laurent that caused her to babble? But why would she mention a trowel as part of the story, as the trowel seems to be relevant only to Laurent and seems an unnecessary embellishment if it was just a story for Bencolin, she could just have said she saw Laurent in the bathroom, there was no need to mention a trowel, or was the trowel in her mind because Vautrelle had told her about the way he’d managed to unnerve Laurent by mentioning Poe and the trowel?  And I remember that Vautrelle seemed annoyed to hear Louise telling Bencolin the story, so did this mean that it had happened infront of Laurent (the second theory) so Vautrelle didn’t want her speaking about this to Bencolin? Looking through the book again, I see that Bencolin said that Louise had lied when she said she’d seen Laurent in the bathroom and he’d dropped the trowel (and Bencolin added that he’d suspected this almost from the beginning, grrrr, clever clever Bencolin!) but I’m still not clear if Bencolin meant that she had lied to him (Bencolin) or lied to Vautrelle and Laurent at Kilard’s? And again, I think all this trowel on the bathroom floor thing is very sneaky of the author as it links again to Laurent getting secretly into buildings, reinforcing it being him as the clever murderer who escaped from the card-room, when Laurent hadn’t actually done this. And I’m clearly still thinking about this trowel thing now after I’d already spent an enormous amount of time trying to work out how it was done whilst reading the book, grrr!

And this was perhaps just me, but I thought from studying the map at the beginning of the book, that there were several police officers in the hall and this made it seem even more impossible that the murderer could escape from the card-room unseen. But now I’ve finished the book and am looking back at the map, I am thinking there was only ever Francois in the hall and he just moved about, so the three police officer positions marked on the map are just the various places that Francois stood in. Francois’ first position was outside the smoking room, where Vautrelle spoke to him for eight minutes to establish his alibi (and also another extreme luckiness (as mentioned before!) that Francois was standing there outside the smoking room so didn’t see Vautrelle exit the card-room unseen). Francois’ second position was by the hall clock, which he’d walked to with Vautrelle to check the time and which now put him in view of the card-room door. Francois’ third position was directly outside the card-room door, after Vautrelle leaves him to go and sit with Louise and Bencolin. And all of this makes me think again that it’s all a bit too much lucky coincidence, as Vautrelle couldn’t have known where Francois would be standing as he exited the card-room, if he’d been standing in his second or third position when Vautrelle exited the card-room then he’d have been seen by him and most definitely suspected of the murder. And it also makes me wonder if the map at the start of the book was actually relevant, or just a fun red herring really.

And I thought that the use of the sword for Laurent’s murder implied that the murderer had prior knowledge of it being sharp and had planned the murder around the use of this handy weapon, but was this actually the case? Did Vautrelle and Louise know that the swords were kept sharp? Did they always plan to use this weapon, or were they just going to find something suitable in the moment?

And I guess forensics were more basic then than now and there was also no reason to doubt that the body in the card-room was Saligny’s and it obviously looked like Saligny, but I just struggle slightly to believe that at the post-mortem nothing alerted them that this wasn’t Saligny’s body, did he have no identifying marks, what about the injuries to his hand and back? 

And regarding the Alice in Wonderland book that Vautrelle found in the booth in the smoking room (which was presumably brought there by Laurent (as Saligny) to give to Sharon), this took a lot of my time pondering the significance of this book, but in the end it seems to have had little significance really, there was nothing sinister or revealing to be gained from it, apart from I guess a clue later when Sharon mentions the book and that the man she knew as Saligny could read English, when the real Saligny couldn’t. And that also makes me wonder again what Laurent’s intentions were for Sharon if he hadn’t been killed that night and had met her upstairs, as if he was going to kill her (as I thought) then why bother bringing the book to give to her?

And I’m still wondering what significance Grafenstein saw in the Alice in Wonderland book? Was it just that the Queen of Hearts frequently orders that people’s heads be chopped off? But I had kind of presumed it was something more subtle and sinister that he saw.

Jeff points out to Bencolin that Grafenstein noticed something which ‘so shook him up that he was hardly able to think at all’, though Jeff doesn’t know what this was. Did we ever find out what this was that Grafenstein had noticed? I took it to be something different to whatever he saw in the Alice book (although I’m still puzzled as to what that was too!).

Francois told Bencolin that the thread that Bencolin had taken from under Saligny’s/Laurent’s fingernail and the thread he found under the window were both from Louise’s stocking, but why was the thread under the window? I know Laurent went to the window to throw Louise’s cigarette out of the window, but had he been messing with Louise’s stocking at that time? 

And thinking about the murder of Vautrelle, it turns out it was just a coincidence that Sharon and Jeff sat on the very bench which Vautrelle’s body had been lent against. I had wondered if the murderer was in the garden listening to their talk and quietly crept up with the body to place it against the bench they were sitting at, which would add to the sinisterness, but it didn’t seem like Louise had planned out the murder or the discovery of the body at all, and had given no thought to Sharon and Jeff being there. In fact, I’m tempted to think Louise would have more likely just left the body by the gate where it fell, so I’m thinking having it propped up against the bench where the hand touches Sharon was just pure drama inserted by the author (and obviously it was very memorable to read!).

And still on the subject of when Vautrelle was killed, I know I questioned this at the time I read it but I still don’t think we have any answers as to how and when Bencolin got there to Sharon’s house, where his vehicle was parked, and how on earth he missed seeing the murder or even hearing Vautrelle’s faint cry that Jeff heard from inside the house? 

And it blows my mind a bit that we now know that Louise had murdered Laurent in the card-room just a few moments before she sat down at Bencolin’s table. I can’t help wondering if she would be able to be as calm and collected as she was with all that adrenaline rushing through her? Although I guess she was high on drugs so perhaps this could be said to dull or disguise her emotions. But I also very much struggle to believe that there was absolutely no blood on her at all after chopping Laurent’s head off with a sword, surely there would have been some splashing of blood that would have reached her, even though she was the length of the sword away from it? 

And I do wonder at the enormity of Louise being around Laurent again, when he was pretending to be Saligny, and how on earth she could have concealed from him her terror of him. Again, I guess maybe the drugs helped her conceal this, but still it is hard to imagine how she could appear calm.

And I still can’t help thinking that Louise could be seen as not fully culpable for her actions as she was an extremely vulnerable person and had been pushed to the limit of what she could endure, surely she was still traumatised by almost being killed by Laurent when he was her husband, and she had the trauma of being around Laurent again while he was pretending to be Saligny, and she was under the influence of drugs having been made a drug addict in the first place by Vautrelle, and she felt rejected by both Laurent (as Saligny) and Vautrelle with them cheating on her with Sharon, and she was often taken advantage of sexually by Fenelli, and she even (possibly, I’m not sure on this) knew for quite some time that Saligny had been murdered and his body put in the cellar of his house where presumably she was living (she presumably did have feelings for Saligny, even though she was in love with Vautrelle, so presumably was grieving for him to a degree, as well as the horror of knowing a body was in the house). All those things make me think she wasn’t capable of judging correctly and was acting out of character and was driven by circumstances to act in an extreme manner. As I said before, I had hoped that Bencolin would treat her leniently or even let her leap out of the window to her death, but he sounded bitter and angry at Louise and with no sympathy for her when he called the murderer ‘utterly cold-blooded and cynical, and…firmly believes that these acts are done justifiably to avenge wrongs’. I guess it was a different time then and perhaps mental health and trauma wasn’t as understood as it is now, but still I was a bit surprised that it looked like she was going to be arrested and hanged.

But (although I’ve nit-picked a bit here) I did really really enjoy the book, it was very tense and clever and a great read, really exciting. Admittedly I’m not sure if the locked room explanation quite lived up to the premise at the start of the book, and there did seem to be a few holes and coincidences in it, but I am bearing in mind that this was Dickson Carr’s first book so he was probably honing his skill, and perhaps later books are more slick and with less holes. It’s interesting too that the start of the book hints at horror/supernatural, but it doesn’t really follow through with that. I see that the original title of the book was Grand Guignol (which I see on Wikipedia means theatre with graphic horror entertainment, popular in Paris between the two World Wars), so I wonder if this fits better with the film noir aspect of the book. I think I will read some more of Dickson Carr’s books, I very much fancy He Who Whispers and The Black Spectacles, as I see both of these are published by British Library Crime Classics and the blurb on both sounds wonderful, and The Hollow Man sounds a great read too. And I’m quite tempted to read some of Edgar Allan Poe’s too, I think from looking on Wikipedia that the book referred to at Saligny’s bachelor dinner is The Cask of Amontillado. The Fall of the House of Usher sounds like it has a similar theme too, and I see both of these, and others similar, are in the book Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I’m even thinking of re-reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to try and see what Grafenstein saw (or is that getting too obsessed?!). And I’m also quite tempted to re-read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, after the famous murders mentioned during the bachelor dinner. 

It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr available on Amazon
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